When I got word that I’d be working on this seq, and after hearing Patrick Warburtons dialogue, which was quite over the top and already felt like it was animating itself, I had a good sense of how I wanted this character to be. I instantly thought of a hyped up football coach, like John Goodman from Revenge of the Nerds.
Here's the layout
For this shot I wasn’t overly concerning about starting with thumbnails or rough ideas of poses. At times you’ll have those in mind right when you get a shot, other times I find it useful to work yourself into the character, and the moment, and see what comes out of your acting through reference. For this scene I knew the character was probably a heavy breather, pumped up full of adrenaline, and ready to inspire his troops, so before I began shooting I jumped up and down, ran around in place, hit myself on the head like some roid’ed out dude, whatever I could do to get into the breath of the character and the state he’s in.
Practice your scene, figure out your marks, tape them down if you have to, know where you need to look, and try to get the camera as close to the composition of the scene as possible. It doesn’t need to be exact, but you just want to get as much information from the reference as possible.
I shot this scene for quite a long time, and typically like to shoot until I feel like I’m exhausting the same ideas over and over again, then I’ll review the takes, find some things I like, and build on those…trying to hit them with the right timing for the right beats and make them feel natural. I’ll typically have loads of footage that I cut down to a handful of takes, and from there look at them all again back to back and see what I feel works best. What I typically look for is something natural, that lends itself to the scene and doesn’t look like you’ll have to force it in or work too hard to try and make it feel right. I ended up combining two different takes for the first scene above.
Here’s the whole run of the scene in reference, just so you can see me making a fool of myself in context. This is what I’ll show to the director to get a buy off on my ideas and intentions for the shot. In this case, he ended up changing the length of the end beat for the shot where he comes up close to camera, and wanted us to stay with him while he was in close for the beginning of the next line (which was nice because he liked my ideas, but I was really liking the beginning of the following scene and hated losing it, but ah well)
After I get the go ahead from the director, I’ll start looking for my keys in the reference. Your always looking for your key poses, but also the movement in and out of the key poses, that makes the intent of the shot work. Do you do a double bounce thats key to the acting, does your head jet forward or lead a turn. For this scene I had about 20 or so keys that I ended up using. They aren't my extreme poses, or some call em golden poses, there's only a few of those..these are the basic movement I was trying to capture
Now that I have my keys for the scene, I’ll do some thumbnails
It’s important for me to take note of whats going on. Thats all thumbnails really are, they’re notes. Scribbling down whats going on, be it in your reference or ideas you have in your head. I need to know what I’m doing and when, how things are moving, what type of arcs I may be making, what’s an ‘UP’, whats a ‘DOWN’, when does my head turn, does my neck push out as my head turns the other way, etc etc. You could just look at the reference keys and go off those, but its important to know your scene in and out, and know what you plan to do before you do it. I also find it really helpful to figure out how I want to interpret those poses onto the characters design and make some drawings that inspire what I’m wanting to do with my poses
Once I know what I’m intending to do, I’ll start in on blocking. Its important to keep your blocking simple, and clean. I’ll find the few poses I plan on hitting, and spend a little more time crafting the look of those (but not down to every detail as the ideas may change). With the movement though I like to use as few controls as possible, mainly the body root for rotations, translations (like moving forward or my ups and downs), but no overlapping action or breaking of joints or finger details, unless of course its important to the acting of the shot. Only put in what you need to sell your idea. Don’t worry about technical things like FK/IK, parenting, etc etc. Its okay to rough that stuff in and tie it down later when your ready to commit to the performance.
After I get the buy off from the director, I’ll take it out of blocking into my first pass. This is typically more for myself, setting the scene up so I can finish it cleanly and won’t have to still be muscling through movements that don’t make sense technically when I’l trying to do a polishing pass.
This is a bit more advanced, I wasn’t able to find my first pass of this scene so this actually has a bit more detail than I typically want in. This is more of what I’d show the director as a full animation pass, but not a final, far from it. You want to make sure in your first pass that your honoring what sparked and worked well in your blocking. So often animators lose what made their blocking work so well, just because they started ‘splining’ their curves. I hate the word ‘splining’ by the way, it sounds so computery. I like thinking of it as tying down my animation, or flushing it out. You can have really great blocking, but it can easily turn to shit if you lose track of what you were capturing in your blocking, or stepped pass.
Again, with the directors buy off of the current look of the scene, and once your approved to move it forward and finish it up, you want to now do all the small details that you want to have in there, as the scene shouldn’t change at this point (but it still sometimes does). I’ll start to round out my arcs, check my spacing, hitches, making sure its nice and organic and fleshy. I’ll usually do the secondary motion and props, overlapping actions, small bits of settles and micro-movements..anything you can get in there, that again doesn’t take away from the intent of the shot, but just makes it look sexy.
here's the final version of the scene, with all the lovely cfx, lighting, and sound
and there ya go. :)